In pictures and words, one year later: Life in Charlotte during COVID-19

Melissa Oyler
·10 min read

A year ago this week, everything changed.

The hustle and bustle of our world in Charlotte came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in our community in March of 2020. Seemingly overnight, events were canceled, offices were closed and gyms and restaurant dining rooms were emptied. Jobs were lost. We naively thought we’d only have to stay home for two weeks to avoid community spread of the coronavirus. Two weeks turned into three, and then we started counting months.

Too many people got sick. Too many died. It’s difficult to find the words to express what it feels like to lose 500,000+ Americans to this virus in one year.

In Charlotte and around the country, we started wearing cloth face coverings to protect ourselves and others. We mastered virtual meetings. We now know that six feet apart can feel like miles. We’ve learned that what we most need in this world is our health — and each other.

Somehow, a year has passed. So much has changed, and so much is still changing.

As journalists, there is a responsibility that comes with knowing — even as the moment is happening — that we are documenting history. Photojournalists can capture moments in time that will forever remind us of what we have been through together. In words and pictures, here are a few of those moments to remind us, from the CharlotteFive team (make sure to check out the video above or the gallery at the end of this story for 50 of our best photos from the past year):

The early weeks: So much change, and so fast

The toilet paper aisle at Target’s Midtown location on March 11, 2020.
The toilet paper aisle at Target’s Midtown location on March 11, 2020.
  • March 12: Rich & Bennett’s St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl was postponed amid coronavirus concerns. The Charlotte Go Green Festival was postponed and the Whitewater Center’s Green River Revival was canceled.

  • March 13: Local spots began making the difficult decision to close temporarily to stop COVID-19. Sycamore Brewery was the first, followed by others over the next few days, including Wooden Robot, Charlotte Beer Garden, Girl Tribe Co., Barre Code and Hygge. Once the pause in service announcements began, they didn’t stop. One by one or two by two or sometimes four by four, restaurant closing announcements trickled into our team for the next few days.

  • March 17: At 5 p.m. on March 17 under executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper, all restaurant dining rooms closed. Restaurants were still allowed to serve takeout and delivery orders. This was a St. Patrick’s Day like we’d never seen before.

  • March 18: A CDC report came with a warning: COVID-19 is seriously sickening American adults of all ages, not just elderly or immune-compromised individuals.

  • March 26: Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order went into effect at 8 a.m.

  • March 27: It will be impossible to recollect this time in our lives without thinking about the toilet paper shortage. Charlotte restaurants with extra rolls started handing them out.

At Paper Plane Deli in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte, you could pick up a free roll of toilet paper when you stop in.
At Paper Plane Deli in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte, you could pick up a free roll of toilet paper when you stop in.
  • March 29: A 60-year-old died in Mecklenburg County from COVID-19, the first confirmed coronavirus-related death in the county.

  • March 30: We caught up with Yosefry Cabreja, delivering packages for Fed Ex in the Shannon Park neighborhood. He was just one of many in our community, out there doing what they could to get us what we needed to stay safe — and at home. “*Sigh*...Yall about to have folks ordering stuff they don’t need hoping Mr. Cabreja show up,” @cindersevens commented on our Instagram post.

We caught up with Yosefry Cabreja delivering packages for FedEx in the Shannon Park neighborhood on Monday, March 30, 2020.
We caught up with Yosefry Cabreja delivering packages for FedEx in the Shannon Park neighborhood on Monday, March 30, 2020.
Fu’s Tattoos on April 4, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fu’s Tattoos on April 4, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Streets in Myers Park are closed to thru traffic as part of Charlotte’s Shared Streets program.
Streets in Myers Park are closed to thru traffic as part of Charlotte’s Shared Streets program.
  • May 7: Charlotteans laced up their running shoes to run for Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while out for a jog in Georgia.

  • May 19: Make it safe, but fashion: Readers emailed us their mask selfies and shared where they bought their favorite face coverings. The shaming of those choosing to wear masks in public was also in full force.

  • May 24: So many businesses have closed since the coronavirus pandemic began — too many to list here. On this day, Beth Castle wrote a memoriam to the Manor Theatre, which had recently announced that after 73 years in Charlotte, it would not reopen.

The Regal Manor Twin on Providence Road announced it would not reopen after the coronavirus pandemic. The movie theater was open for 73 years.
The Regal Manor Twin on Providence Road announced it would not reopen after the coronavirus pandemic. The movie theater was open for 73 years.
  • End of May: After George Floyd was killed by the police on May 25, activists in Charlotte joined those nationwide in taking to the streets to protest police brutality, systematic racism against Black people. Charlotteans marched all summer, not only for George Floyd but also Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

A man kneels to protest the killing of George Floyd at the Black Lives Matter mural in uptown Charlotte on June 26, 2020.
A man kneels to protest the killing of George Floyd at the Black Lives Matter mural in uptown Charlotte on June 26, 2020.
On June 9, Dakotah Aiyanna was uptown painting Black Lives Matter along Tryon Street with other artists in Charlotte.
On June 9, Dakotah Aiyanna was uptown painting Black Lives Matter along Tryon Street with other artists in Charlotte.
  • June 19: Charlotte’s local businesses struggled during this time, and the community rushed to help in all the ways that we could. In about 24 hours, Lang Van customer Carly West raised more than $30,000 for the restaurant. By October, the fundraiser had received more than $60,000.

Originally opened by her family in 1990, Dan Nguyen has been working there since 1999. On Friday, June 19, she had tears in her eyes as she told CharlotteFive about customers helping her during this difficult time of COVID-19.
Originally opened by her family in 1990, Dan Nguyen has been working there since 1999. On Friday, June 19, she had tears in her eyes as she told CharlotteFive about customers helping her during this difficult time of COVID-19.

Summer 2020

In June 2020, Dalton Espaillat opened La Caseta at Camp North End’s new food stalls on Keswick Avenue. It is inspired by his wife’s mother’s cooking.
In June 2020, Dalton Espaillat opened La Caseta at Camp North End’s new food stalls on Keswick Avenue. It is inspired by his wife’s mother’s cooking.
  • July: We knew travel was unsafe, but that didn’t stop us from dreaming. We studied flight deals, refund policies. We made plans for far into the future — with money-back guarantees for cancellations, obviously.

A plane lands at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on July 22, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A plane lands at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on July 22, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • July 17: When we got to the endless scroll on Netflix, it was difficult to know what to do next. Then Queens of the Queen City dropped in July and the couch life was right again for a moment.

  • August: Parents, teachers and officials navigated the tough decisions ahead regarding virtual school and in-person learning. Former teachers Ensley Henderson and Sara Kay Mooney wrote an op-ed on July 31 titled “Let’s use our privilege to make virtual learning equal for all in Charlotte.”

  • August 13: Move over, puzzles and sourdough, there’s a new hobby in the house. Emiene Wright wrote about our latest collective pandemic obsession: plant collecting. We’d like to think plants will be here to stay long after COVID-19 has left the building. We also wondered: how else will the coronavirus change the way we live at home?

On August 7, Shades of Moss owner Barry Greene stands in his shop in the Elizabeth neighborhood on 7th Street.
On August 7, Shades of Moss owner Barry Greene stands in his shop in the Elizabeth neighborhood on 7th Street.
  • August 25: We learned that part of the cruelty of COVID-19 is that simply surviving doesn’t mean everything is OK. NoDa Yoga owner Jillian Longsworth talked candidly about what it was like to be a “COVID long-hauler” and the importance of sharing symptoms so that we can learn from each other.

  • September 18: Charlotte got its first seltzery, Summit Seltzer. Adding even more alcohol choices to a city known for its craft beer scene seemed a perfect way to wrap up the strangest summer of our lives.

Fall 2020

  • October 8: Outdoor dining was still a thing, but winter was on its way and by this point, we all knew the risks of sharing indoor space with others. We began preparing for winter with colder, shorter days, knowing the COVID-19 numbers could get worse.

  • October 15-31: Early voting began, and with it came a plan for most convenient location, shortest lines and of course — best swag.

Lines to vote were nearly nonexistent Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at Spectrum Center.
Lines to vote were nearly nonexistent Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at Spectrum Center.
  • October 31: We celebrated Halloween — from a distance.

The Great Pumpkin Wall in Elizabeth sends a message of unity on October 30, 2020.
The Great Pumpkin Wall in Elizabeth sends a message of unity on October 30, 2020.
A house is decorated for the 2020 holidays on Sherwood Forest Drive in Old Providence in Charlotte.
A house is decorated for the 2020 holidays on Sherwood Forest Drive in Old Providence in Charlotte.

Winter 2020/2021

  • December 1: We said a lot of notable goodbyes to longtime businesses in 2020, and Sammy’s Deli decided to mark its last day on December 1 with free breakfast and lunch to customers. “I guess everything has an ending,” owner Billy Harris told CharlotteFive a few weeks before closing. Harris opened Sammy’s in 1997 with former co-owner Serafimes “Sammy” Balatsias. “That’s going to be it. We did what we did, it’s been good.” Nearby Nova’s Bakery closed soon after, on Dec. 13. Some good news, though: Dish began serving the breakfast menu from Sammy’s, giving longtime regulars a neighborhood place to continue gathering.

Billy Harris opened Sammy’s Deli with Serafimes “Sammy ” Balatsias in 1997. The restaurant closed on Dec. 1.
Billy Harris opened Sammy’s Deli with Serafimes “Sammy ” Balatsias in 1997. The restaurant closed on Dec. 1.
Gwin Dalton stands in the garage at her house in the Wendover-Sedgewood neighborhood. Her daughter, Dede Caughman, created a massive mural inside for a socially distant to-go Christmas.
Gwin Dalton stands in the garage at her house in the Wendover-Sedgewood neighborhood. Her daughter, Dede Caughman, created a massive mural inside for a socially distant to-go Christmas.
The Charlotte Skyline was lit up with orange lights January 19, 2021 in support of frontline workers during COVID-19.
The Charlotte Skyline was lit up with orange lights January 19, 2021 in support of frontline workers during COVID-19.
In 2021, Super Bowl parties were virtual to keep the coronavirus away.
In 2021, Super Bowl parties were virtual to keep the coronavirus away.
Frankie White, owner and operator of BW Sweets Bakery.
Frankie White, owner and operator of BW Sweets Bakery.
  • Feb. 19-March 6: The second annual “I Heart Rail Trail: Lights” exhibit, however, gave us a safe, socially distant reason to get off the couch and enjoy some beautiful artwork.

Just South of the Uptown is “Light Beans” by Luvly Moon. It is one of a series of art installations in 2021’s I Heart Rail Trail: Lights displays.
Just South of the Uptown is “Light Beans” by Luvly Moon. It is one of a series of art installations in 2021’s I Heart Rail Trail: Lights displays.
  • March 2021: Most of the rest of this month remains to be seen. Worries about COVID-19 strains remain, but the daily numbers are improving. The vaccine is here for some and just around the corner for everyone. Is this the hope we need? Will this bring relief? Time will tell, but if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that we can get through quite a lot — together.